Sochi Winter Olympics: Which Venue Has The Best Vibe?

Just like people, each Olympic venue has a different personality. Before I got here, I thought they would all be pretty much homogeneous but there’s a different type of photographer, athlete, spectator, security guards at every one. So here’s a little insider’s peek at how I’ve found the atmosphere at each venue.

Rosa Khutor Extreme Park

Gold medallist Sage Kotsenburg styling it out in training

Gold medallist Sage Kotsenburg styling it out in training

Chiller on the side of the Extreme Park slopestyle hill

Chiller on the side of the Extreme Park slopestyle hill

The Extreme Park is my absolute favourite. Mainly because it’s the home to snowboarding but also because it’s got more of a party atmosphere to it than the other venues. The pumping music works well with the extreme sports taking place there – from slopestyle to halfpipe to moguls. Photographers like to chat here. Camera men operate their cameras topless (it was a balmy 16°C today!) No one is pushy, because there’s plenty of room for everyone to shoot together harmoniously. There’s a real sense that the athletes here are actually supportive of one another. And obviously, this is where Jenny Jones won her bronze so the Brits love it.

Rosa Khutor Alpine Park

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All eyes on the hill

DownhillSuperCombined1_M_14Feb14Home to alpine skiing, there’s certainly a more serious vibe here. It’s dominated by Swiss, French and Austrians, both in the crowds and on the media stands. The atmosphere is tense and highly competitive. Not a lot of joking around happens up at Alpine. After all, it is one of the oldest Winter Olympic events, so perhaps that’s why it feels more traditional than other venues. A huge proportion of the piste is kept in the shade to keep the pistes icy and fast, so it gets pretty cold when you’re standing there waiting for the next skier to come down.

Laura Biathlon and Cross Country Centre

CrossCountry

It seems like a holiday resort up here. Yes, every venue has a competitive feel but cross-country just seems like everyone is there to bask in the sun and enjoy watching skiiers swish past. It’s a bit like watching a shorter version of a marathon and the athletes don’t move as fast as other mountain sports, so the atmosphere is very relaxed. That is until they get to the finish line when the crowds go nuts because anticipation over who will win has been building for an hour. It’s also the most beautiful, snowy venue. One Canadian tech man I was speaking to said at the Vancouver Games, spectators cut seats into the ice and brought up bottles of wine to drink while they watched the cross-country, which pretty much says it all.

Sanki Sliding Centre

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I’ve encountered a lot of aggro up here because every single photographer wants to get a clean shot from the start line. This is difficult when it’s a straight line and everyone keeps leaning inwards, blocking the photographers behind them. Despite this, there’s a lot of camaraderie between photographers once they move away from the start line. Spectators get to roam around the edges, just like we do. A lot of them will cheer anyone who comes past, even the forerunners. They find it hilarious when they realise it’s not an actual Olympic athlete they’ve been cheering. It’s a tricky one to shoot because most sports take place at night and they hoon it past you at crazy speeds.

Your classic Sliding Centre spectator

Your classic Sliding Centre spectator

RusSki Jumping Centre

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Everyone is here for the spectacle. It truly is a sight to behold watching men and women, who seem minuscule compared to their enormous surroundings, jump distances of 100m through the air. The crowds love it. The atmosphere is one of gobsmacking awe at humanity’s lack of fear, plus the cries of dismay when someone crashes are definitely more pronounced. I have to admit, it’s amazing at first but once you’ve seen the 40th skiier fly past it does get a little repetitive.

And a few more things…

  • Russian 19-year-olds are amazingly well-versed in English Literature. My Russian flatmates know so much about Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare. It puts me to shame when they start asking me whether I prefer the works of Chekhov or Dostoyevsky…
  • Beer and vodka mixed together is a totally normal thing in Russia. They call them “Beer Cocktails”. Perhaps something that’s been concocted by default in your stomach before, but not together by choice.Photo 31-01-2014 22 50 34
  • This is the only place I’ve ever been where you can’t put toilet paper down the toilet. Forget hand towels or nappies, these toilets can’t take anything at all.
  • There’s mice on the loose inside the hotels. One BBC reporter I spoke to was rudely awakened by a mouse scuttling around his bedroom floor….
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